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The child in the family

Protection of orphans and vulnerable children

© UNICEF/HQ98-0891/Pirozzi
Rose, 4 years old, helps set tables for lunch at an orphanage in Rwanda where she and her sister have lived since 1994

According to the last Census of the Population in Rwanda conducted in August 2002, there are over 1,200,000 children who have lost one or both parents as a result of conflict, poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS. The figure of vulnerable children is actually higher if one considers the number of other children deprived of family care, living in institutions, involved with armed groups or working in harsh conditions.

Among all the orphans and vulnerable children there are certain children who are particularly in need of protection measures: children living in households headed by children (over 100,000), children living on the street (approximately 7,000), children in institutions, children in prison and children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. The growing number of orphans and vulnerable children poses a problem to the traditional incorporation of these children into the extended family structure. At least 36% of Rwandan households already have children other than their own (mostly through informal foster care arrangements), so their capacity to support more children has been depleted or is severely limited. 

Viewing the grave situation of orphans and vulnerable children being marginalised from the family care system and community structures, UNICEF and the Government of Rwanda Government initiated the Child Protection Project as part of the 2001-2006 Program of Cooperation. The goal is to build a protective environment for children that allows families and communities to offer a system for the protection of all vulnerable children. The objectives were to establish legislative, administrative and social measures for protecting the rights of children deprived of a family environment; and to strengthen the capacity of children, especially of those in high HIV/AIDS risk groups to recognise and contribute to the realization of their rights.

UNICEF has successfully supported the development and approval of a national policy for orphans and vulnerable children. It has funded the introduction of the rights-based approach to programming in three provinces, ensuring effective participation of families and children in analysis and planning. UNICEF is now in the process of supporting a nation-wide the district planning process, using the rights-based approach, to ensure that this policy is translated into action plans at community and family level. 

Income generating activities, revolving micro-credits and vocational training were provided for 15,000 child headed households and other vulnerable families with children. These activities helped families improve the welfare and the nutrition status of their households in general, and to bear education and health care costs of the children.  Child headed households organized themselves into associations; a move that helped them fight isolation.

Five local non-governamental organizations in four provinces have been supported to address the socio economic reintegration of street children. The support has included staff development, family tracing, income generating activities, vocational training, educational support and health care. A total of 785 children directly benefited from these activities.

Sensitization activities and an awareness campaign on HIV/AIDS prevention were conducted through workshops, sports and cultural activities. As a result, families and communities, especially vulnerable children and youth have changed their behaviour. They organized themselves into AIDS prevention clubs where they are holding discussions on HIV/AIDS and keeping themselves informed about the pandemic. 

The Child Protection Project in Rwanda has been effective in addressing the issue of vulnerable children who are without family care. However, the number of children benefited by the project is limited, noting the large number of vulnerable children country-wide. UNICEF continues to support the implementation of the national policy for orphans and vulnerable children as well as the building of a child protection system in order to expand the response.

UNICEF is always concerned about the quality and impact of its supported interventions. From the Rwanda example, the conclusion was drawn that it is important to involve and empower families, communities and local authorities from the beginning so that efforts and progress made for child protection will be sustained.



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